I’ve been reading Edward Brooks’ The Young Louis Armstrong on Records: A Critical Survey of the Early Recordings, 1923-1928, a record-by-record study of Armstrong’s early work written by a Brit with a Ph.D. in musicology. Most of what he says is astute and well-informed, but I have to confess that I get the giggles whenever he writes about one of the many recordings in which Armstrong can be heard backing up such classic blues singers as Bessie Smith. Each of these latter entries begins with a wonderfully starchy summary of the lyrics of the song in question. To wit:
“The words describe a life of emotional imprudence, but without chronological plot; they are more a series of sorrowful, impressionistic comments about a wasted life caused by a wild temperament.” (Reckless Blues)
“A melancholy but resigned complaint about an uncaring, ill-treating, improvident, impecunious man, sung by a voice well acquainted with grief; it ends with a resolve to find another.” (Cold in Hand Blues)
“A demand for emotional status, the words contain a grain or two of oblique humor.” (I Ain’t Goin’ to Play No Second Fiddle)
I suspect–I hope–that Brooks is pulling our legs, but either way, his decorous little summaries somehow remind me of George Bernard Shaw’s parody of over-technical classical-music program notes:
I will now, ladies and gentlemen, give you my celebrated “analysis” of Hamlet’s soliloquy on suicide, in the same scientific style. “Shakespear, dispensing with the customary exordium, announces his subject at once in the infinitive, in which mood it is presently repeated after a short connecting passage in which, brief as it is, we recognize the alternative and negative forms on which so much of the significance of repetition depends. Here we reach a colon; and a pointed pository phrase, in which the accent falls decisively on the relative pronoun, brings us to the first full stop
I’m not exactly a Shaw fan, to put it mildly, but I forgive him a lot for having written that.